Day 1 of Practice with LeHew - Major League Fishing

Day 1 of Practice with LeHew

Starting practice for the Forrest Wood Cup on Wheeler Lake
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July 31, 2016 • Jody White • Archives

Shane LeHew has dominated the competition locally in North Carolina and nationally at the college level, but he hasn’t had a signature tournament in the pro ranks yet. Now done with his third season on the Walmart FLW Tour, LeHew qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup for the second time in two years and seems poised to become more than a reliable sleeper pick in Fantasy Fishing. LeHew was kind enough to let me ride with him for the first morning of practice. Here’s how he approached the day.


LeHew arrives at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur, Ala., at about 5:20 in the morning. Pausing to make a quick fix to the motor toter on his Evinrude (with practiced ease) using some 80-pound-test braid before dumping the Ranger into the warm summer water of the Tennessee River. Though he isn’t the first on the water, he’s definitely not the last.

Before leaving the dock, LeHew pulls out a selection of Fitzgerald Rods and organizes them into two piles on the deck. LeHew is a shallow-water guy at heart, and his rod choices reflect that – the only real deep option on deck is a football jig.


Running up the lake from Decatur, the first stop is simply a main-river bank with laydowns. Nearly every inch of bank around Decatur looks good – it’s either covered with rip rap, bank grass or wood and there are a bunch of nooks and crannies that bass could hide in.

LeHew starts with a jig and transitions over to a buzzbait in short order. Nearly as quickly, he hooks up on the first of the day, a long 2-pounder that ate his bait almost as soon as it hit the water. Already, official practice is going better than pre-practice, when LeHew says he got “five or six bites in two and a half days.”


After continuing on up his starting bank for a while, LeHew signals that it’s time to go and cranks up. Heading further up the lake, we swing into a side channel and then into a big backwater.


In the backwater, LeHew slows to an idle once he pulls off the channel, switches his Lowrance to the base maps from Navionics (to better show the old creek channel) and busts out his phone for a peak at Google Earth. He’s attempting to make it back to some lily pads he picked out on Google Earth in his pre-tournament scouting, but it’s going to take some doing.

After running a bit more, LeHew settles down to idle the rest of the way.

“I’d run it at Okeechobee, but not here,” says LeHew. “I already got stuck once in practice, right next to where I saw an alligator.”

After I demanded photographic proof of the practice gator, I ask for his take on his performance on Tour. LeHew has won at the college level a pile of times, including the 2013 Southeastern Conference Invitational on Wheeler Lake, but he really hasn’t threatened for a win on the pro side at all.

“I’ve been around enough to win a couple of times,” says LeHew. “Sometimes it’s execution and sometimes it’s decision making. I feel like I need to fish a little more aggressive too. And I think I’m gonna in this one.”


About halfway to his goal, LeHew stops to do some fishing, pulling out his trusty jig for a few flips at some shallow laydowns. After fishing down the bank for about 50 yards, LeHew pulls up his trolling motor again and continues the idle for another few hundred yards before turning around.

“It’s been too shallow for too long with no real change,” says LeHew.

Idling until he is no longer kicking up mud, LeHew fires up and runs back over his track to the river.


Before heading all the way out of the backwater, LeHew makes another stop along the way, touching on a bank lining the channel that is deep and covered with laydowns. As he fishes, methodically flipping a jig and occasionally casting a crankbait, Scott Suggs rolls by headed into the same backwater area that he just vacated. Soon, LeHew heads all the way out, running back down the lake toward Decatur.


Back near the main drag, LeHew makes a few quick stops. The first being down a line of docks and rocks, then fishing a few bridge pilings and finally slowing down to drag a jig along a section of the river ledge.

At 8:40 a.m. CT, LeHew breaks off his football jig on a snag.

“Well, that’s enough deep fishing for me.”


Picking up the trolling motor again, LeHew fields a call from his travel-partner and fellow competitor Bandon Cobb (LeHew’s kicker from the morning gives him the unofficial lead on the day) and then cranks up for some fresh water.


Moving on, LeHew heads to another developed shoreline away from the river loaded with rip rap and the occasional patch of grass and piece of wood for a look at it. Working down the bank with a buzzbait, LeHew quickly loses one and lands another before changing up to a weedless model so that he can bury the hook and better avoid hooking bass.


The next move is to some docks. Having spent most of his life in North Carolina, LeHew is a better dock fisherman than almost everyone reading this. With bluegill popping around and bait everywhere, he started into this section of docks with pretty high hopes.

“I don’t know why they would be out there baking in the sun when they’ve got all this shade and all these bluegills.”

Unfortunately, the docks are a bust. After flipping some nearby wood, LeHew moves on to another little backwater area a few miles down the river.


Bryan Thrift might keep his rods a little neater, but LeHew does a good job too. Though he pulled out a few new rods through the course of the morning, he was plainly prepared for what he wanted to do.


Despite the heat of the summer (smothering at times), Wheeler is still teaming with life. From lush flowers on the banks to tons of shad, gar and fry in the water, there’s plenty going on. Though, LeHew would probably like to see a little more bass action happening.


Continuing to work through the backwater area, LeHew pulls out a popper to try around some shad and shade. Fishing along, often making one-handed casts with his popper, LeHew is the picture of serenity. Even last year, when he caught an absolute giant on Toho, the young pro manages to stay on an even keel nearly the whole time. So, when the bites aren’t coming fast and furious, he shows almost no change demeanor.


As the sun climbs higher in the sky, it’s time for me to go and for LeHew to make a move further down the lake. After dropping me back at the ramp, he rustles another bottle of water out of the cooler and heads back out. With $300,000 and the Forrest Wood Cup on the line, there’s every incentive to make as much out of practice as can be.